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Four key priority areas for research have been identified which will significantly increase confidence in investment, reducing the cost barrier by enabling greater return on investment: Collaboration, Autonomy, Simplicity and Acceptance.

Open access feasibility studies responding to emerging industrial needs will be used to develop and increase UK manufacturing sector investment in industrial robotics and automation research and development and increase their adoption.

We are building a vibrant community to increase collaboration across different manufacturing sectors in the UK and create automation solutions to common problems including:

  • Rapidly deploying and adapting robotic systems for a succession of small batch size tasks in the same or different locations.
  • Assisting people carrying out skill-intensive tasks by supporting them on demand with robotic devices supplying components, tools, or a helping hand, just in time.
  • Autonomously manipulating components with challenging, non-rigid, difficult to predict behaviour (e.g. fabric, cables, organics, cakes).
  • Coordinating complex, collaborative tasks between a team of robots that would otherwise need integrated dedicated machines, jigs, and fixtures.
  • Remotely controlling robotic devices carrying out skill intensive tasks in hostile or inaccessible environments with operator inputs (e.g.  extreme temperature, under water, confined spaces, vacuum).

Emerging smart automation technologies will create opportunities for new products and services to be developed with our partners.


There are a number of key barriers that will need to be overcome:

  • Responsiveness:  Specialised equipment is often inflexible; with modifications being either too expensive or impractical.
  • Acceptance: Collaboration is limited by safety, regulatory, procedural, physical, and psychological barriers.
  • Skills: High level of specialist skills required to design, implement and maintain automation.
  • Capability: Many processes and components are too difficult to automate (e.g. non-rigid components, variable shapes, variable behaviours).
  • Cost: Perceived or actual high investment costs.


The Smart Cobotics Centre aims to advance smart manufacturing by eliminating barriers and accelerating widespread use of smart collaborative robotics technology to unlock the full potential of the UK industry in productivity (at least 35% increase), quality (near zero-defects), and adaptability (near zero changeover and re-configuration times).

  • To improve collaboration by maximising the joint effectiveness of human-machine collaboration by safely eliminating the social and technical barriers separating them and enriching their common understanding of each other’s capabilities and intentions.
  • To increase autonomy by enabling automation with more human-like dexterous manipulation and assembly skills to manipulate non-rigid and composite objects and tools while adapting to new and changing situations with minimal human intervention.
  • To simplify automation by minimising the effort required and increasing the certainty of verifying and validating the safety, capability, and effectiveness for complex human-robot systems before implementing and reconfiguring robots on the shop floor making automation more responsive and resilient to planned and unplanned changes.
  • To define a pathway to increased social acceptability: Investigate the transformative societal and cultural impact of smart, collaborative automation to inform policy and educational strategies for long term sustainability and growth.

National Importance and Contribution to Knowledge

The Smart Cobotics Centre aims to help the UK manufacturing industry become more productive and competitive through innovation and adoption of digital technologies. Smart, collaborative industrial robotics is a key part of this with significant untapped potential to increase productivity, create jobs and allow the UK to shape the future of manufacturing. The UK has only recently caught up with the global average, which will increase UK productivity by more than 22%. Enabling technology companies to create and monetise emerging robotics technologies and services will further boost productivity and create high quality employment.

We are building on the work of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Intelligent Automation which brought Loughborough and Cranfield Universities together, to integrate manufacturing automation and human factors expertise. The partnership with Bristol will enable the team to share outputs with future leaders in robotics through the EPSRC CDT in Future Autonomous Robotic Systems. The team will connect with the wider robotics community through the EPSRC UK-RAS Network, led by Imperial College, and through the UK-RAS Soft Robotics STG, led by Bristol. The Smart Cobotics Centre team will also seek to exchange knowledge with others working on robotic manipulation challenges, which, although having a different focus, will combine to create a unique body of knowledge in this field.

The Centre will contribute to UK excellence in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) research, delivering new models for human-robot collaboration, novel advances in dexterous manipulation, innovative developments in the use of virtual and augmented reality to support the configuration and deployment of robots, new knowledge on the societal and cultural impact of smart automation and associated training materials that will help future researchers take a holistic approach to collaborative technology implementation. Many sectors will benefit across a diverse spectrum of production including vehicle e-mobility, warehousing, agri-food, robot development, construction and lightweight and composites. The Centre will establish a network, connecting stakeholders to maximise impact.